How to: build permaculture fruit tree rows

All permaculture books emphasize the need for guilds around trees.  The guilds are the collection of plants that work together to support the tree and each other.  Even through the books have diagrams on how to build them, I was still confused (maybe it’s that first level of learning thing!).  Today, we built one together with our coach, David Homa, who came down for the day, and now I understand!  It is so cool.

Materials:

  • Fruit trees
  • Nitrogen fixing shrubs or trees (one for every two fruit trees)
  • Comfrey (one for every tree and N-fixer)
  • Lots of alliums
  • Daffodils
  • Insectenary flowers – can be various
  • Organic Plant-tone (all purpose plant food).

Tools:

  • Garden rake
  • Small trowel
  • Possibly a shovel

1) Plan your fruit tree rows in a drawing.  I planned my trees fairly closely spaced at 6′ apart, because I intend to prune them to remain small and grow into a fruit hedge.   Every third tree has to be a nitrogen fixer (marked as SB in the drawing).  You want to keep trees of the same fruit separate so pests and diseases for specific trees have more difficulty jumping from one to the next tree.

 

2) Amend the soil as proposed in by your soil test (yes, it is really a good idea to do a soil test and send it off to your local agricultural center).  Rake the soil in your row out to be fairly even.

3) Mark where you are going to plant each tree, say with a little flag.  This makes your work easier (sorry the flags are a little hard to spot in the photo!)

 

 

 

3) Plant your tree.  You can plant each tree and plant herbs around it, or all your trees at once, and then all your herbs.   Dig a hole about twice as large as the roots (my trees were bare-root trees, so these were small-ish holes), carefully put your tree in, giving the roots room, and making sure that the soil-level will be just above the roots, and below the graft of the trees.  Back-fill the tree with the soil you dug out, and tamp down to get out the air pockets.

 

4) Add a rim of 6-8″ of gravel around the truck of the tree.  This is to make sure no herby plants or mulch will grow and butt up against the tender trunk.

 

 

 

 

5) Trace a second circle about 28-24″ from the trunk of the tree with your little trowel.  This will be your allium and daffodil ring – daffodils to deter furry critters, and both because their bulbs allow them to pop up early in Spring to out-compete grass, and they sort-of die back in summer when the tree wants all the water near it (see “Suppressors” in this article).  We also gave the alliums a little bit of plant-tone, an all-purpose plant feeder.

 

7) Halfway between each of your trees/Nitrogen fixers, plant a Comfrey – this is a basic permaculture workhorse plant that pulls minerals from deep in the earth, puts it in the leaves, which you can chop throughout the summer and drop on the ground as green, beneficial mulch.  In your imagination, draw a circle around your little Comfrey plant with a 3′ diameter (see “Accumulators” in the article for alternative plants)

8) Now you have a line of circles — the allium rings with the trees in the center, and the Comfrey plant circles.  In the spaces left by these circles, put your other herbs and flowers.  Mix in ones that are aromatic to deter pests, that attract pollinators, accumulate more minerals.  David suggested we use yarrow, echinacea, chamomile, borage, calendula, but for more options, see lists for “Attractors”, “Repellers” and “Accumulators” in the same article.

9) In our case, we have to make sure plants that were there before don’t come back (like daylilies or bittersweet).  In this case, lay a barrier, like wet newspaper around all of the plants (a little like puzzling).

 

 

10) Put mulch over the newspaper and around the plants, except where the gravel is around the tree.  I also added some decaying wood inside the allium circle, to promote mycelial growth.

In an experiment, we are also trying an alternative to steps 9) and 10) where we have laid down 4″ of aged horse manure to suppress weeds and retain moisture — following the gardening advice of Gene Logsdon in the book Holy Shit. We will report back on which experiment worked best.

Happy guilding!

 

 

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